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Rising Sun, rising business

May 02, 2005 12:44 IST

Fascinated by the potential in the Japanese market, Vipul Kant Upadhyay and his two brothers set up IAP to provide software solutions to Japanese companies.

There were teething problems but the company is now targetting a turnover of $25 million and it's sayonara to uncertainty.

Not having a business background helped

I grew up in Allahabad and did my schooling and graduation there. My parents were academicians and I still maintain that not being from a business family helped me and my two brothers -- because we had no pre-conceived notions, no fixed mindsets about what can and cannot be done in the corporate world.

If we had been from a business family, we'd all probably have gone to the US for business studies. Instead, we looked elsewhere for inspiration.

Looking to japan for inspiration

Our parents taught us the value of thinking strategically. They showed us what a valuable role model Japan could be -- it was a country that had been totally devastated after World War Two but had still rebuilt from scratch and reached high levels of efficiency and professionalism.

Culturally speaking also, we had closer affinities with them than we had with the West -- in terms of social values and ties. The country began to seem like an attractive business prospect.

I finished my MBA from Symbiosis, Pune in 1998 -- where I did international business and foreign trade -- and briefly worked for a couple of companies, including a trading house and a Japanese HR company with operations in India.

Then I started considering other options. Computer science was a happening field then, and so my brothers and I decided to get together and start an IT business.

IAP was born with the idea of training Indian IT engineers to work in Japan.

A high entry barrier

Nobody wanted to go to Japan because of the lower wages

and the greater attractiveness of the US, so we had a tough time recruiting people initially.

Also, we had to set very high standards for ourself, bearing in mind the emphasis on perfectionism in that country; we recruited just one out of 500 applicants on average.

The first impression is the last impression, as the saying goes. But after the initial difficulties, things started taking off for us around 2000-2001, when the downturn in the US economy began.

While the rest of the world was retrenching, we were recruiting. We set up offices in Tokyo and Kobe and started providing a number of value-added end-to-end solutions to cater to the software needs of Japanese corporates.

Cultural differences

To succeed in Japan, an understanding of the language is essential, which is why we have in-house training programmes for our employees.

In even our Delhi office, it is customary for employees to affix "San" (the Japanese term showing respect) to each other's names. We've also made attempts to understand the differences between our method of working and theirs.

They are more controlled and measured in their approach; impatient or kneejerk decisions are frowned upon. Also, the concept of peons doesn't exist there: you have to clean your own desk in the morning.

Neatness and discipline is second nature to them. Even their garbage is sorted into combustible and non-combustible piles and kept out for disposal on specified days.

These are all things that we've had to condition our employees for.

Consolidation

We now have a staff of 400 people across our offices and are targetting a turnover of $25 million in the coming year; it was $8.4 million last year.

We've moved from being a company to a corporate house and hope to further progress to become a business house. We will be looking at expansion in IT as well as venturing into non-IT fields in the near future.

Jai Arjun Singh in New Delhi
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